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And Now I Know

I blame the haircut.

Graham had one—a haircut—just last weekend and once again I’ll be damned if he didn’t age before my eyes: if the boy, the teenager, the man he will become didn’t all of a sudden start to peer out from behind his eyes, lurk around the edges of his smile, and reveal teasing flashes of his presence with every tilt of my son’s newly-shorn head.

And I couldn’t help it, I got to thinking once again, reflecting on how this person, this child has so completely and utterly transformed my life, my heart and my very soul.

And so it was the haircut, that damn haircut, along with this thoughtful essay over at Mom Grind on the transformational aspects of parenting, that got me thinking. In her essay the brilliant Vered quotes a hostile commenter who asked her the very same question we’ve all heard a million times, the very same question that I confess I may have even asked myself, back in the day before something as simple as a little boy’s haircut was enough to prompt me to deep philosophical ruminations on the meaning of life:

Why do people with children act like they’re the first people to ever have to parent in the entire history of mankind?

It’s a valid question to be sure and one deserving of a thoughtful answer and so I apologize in advance because, despite days of ruminating, I can say only this:

People with children act like they’re the first people to ever have to parent in the entire history of mankind because, damnit, they can’t help it.

I can’t help it.

Because I had no idea that it would be like this, even though everyone told me it would be. I didn’t get it, not even a little bit. How could I? How can anyone really grasp the sheer amount of effort—both physical and emotional—that it takes to raise a helpless infant into a self-sufficient human being?

I have often heard authors refer to their novels as their babies and, as a writer myself, I understand that analogy. To both would-be authors and parents seeking understanding I say this: imagine if you started work on a novel and it quickly became your obsession. Imagine that you ate, slept and breathed that novel, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out for years.

And years and years.

Imagine if from the very first minute that you conceived that novel, it took precedence in every single area of your life. Imagine if you were compelled to put it ahead of your sleep and your food and your friends and your marriage and your well being and your alone time and that it was the first thing you thought of when you woke up in the morning and the last thing swirling through your brain late at night and that, even as you slept, it danced through your dreams.

For years and years and years.

And imagine that every day your pride in your novel grew and grew and that you pressed on in your devotion, imbued with the unshakable knowledge that this novel was your life’s work.

Surely you would be celebrated all across the world as an artist of fierce passion and devotion, right?

Not so much.

Imagine that no one really gave a rat’s ass about your novel, much less wanted to read it. Imagine that most people weren’t interested in acknowledging the effort that you put into your novel and were quick to tell you that your years of selfless effort were just par for the course. Imagine that they rolled their eyes and looked bored when you brought it up.

Wouldn’t you feel like no one else in the universe really gets it?

Wouldn’t you try and make them understand?

I would, by God. I would and I do. I talk about my masterpiece, my Graham, because I can’t help it. I have to!

And so would you.

You might whisper at first, to others you suspect are in the same boat but finally you would just raise your voice and demand to be heard.

How is it possible, you will say, that millions of people experience the same thing? How is it possible that you’re not the only person in the entire history of mankind who has worked so hard on something and not achieved greatness and glory for their efforts? How can it be that millions and millions of people throughout history have toiled, and continue to toil, in obscurity creating their own perfect masterpieces that no one, save them and their immediate family, really gives a rat’s ass about?

It’s incredible. It’s unthinkable.

It’s parenting and it’s the biggest freaking trip anyone will ever take.

And I don’t care how crazy I sound to the people who have never been parents, had the desire to be parents or worse, wish that parents would just shut up about it all.

Because I’ve worked so hard on my masterpiece that I have to believe that those people, and the person who left that comment for Vered, are just simply illiterate if they can’t appreciate it.

And if they don’t want to try and understand how a little boy’s haircut can pave the way to ruminating on the infinite complexity of the universe and God’s plans for our place in it.

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